Philippine communist rebel attacks leave six dead

Six soldiers were killed in the latest in a string of attacks by communist insurgents who are fighting back against a government offensive in the Philippines, the army said Monday.

Fierce clashes erupted after a rebel New People’s Army (NPA) sniper killed a soldier guarding a government road project in a mountainous, rural area of eastern Bicol region on Saturday, army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc told AFP.

Reinforcements sent to the area were ambushed hours later, leaving four soldiers dead and four wounded, he said.

Bernard Vergara, a soldier who survived the ambush, said about 30 heavily armed NPA rebels set off petrol bombs, grenades and landmines along the military convoy’s route.

"We gave them a good fight, but the rebels occupied a higher ground," Vergara said, according to a military statement.

"The number of Molotov bombs and grenades thrown at us seemed endless."

Vergara said he saved himself by crawling away and hiding in the bushes.

He said several NPA fighters were also believed killed in the clash although the military did not retrieve any bodies.

Another soldier was killed and seven more wounded in a separate NPA ambush on Saturday about 600 kilometres (370 miles) away near the southern city of Davao on Mindanao island, the army said.

Saturday’s attacks bring to 15 the number of soldiers killed in stepped up attacks by NPA insurgents since national elections on May 10.

The military has said the attacks are in response to an intensified army crackdown ahead of a deadline imposed by President Gloria Arroyo to crush the rebellion by the time she steps down on June 30.

The NPA is the armed wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist-inspired rebellion since 1969.

The rebellion has left thousands of people dead.

Arroyo has said the NPA is on its last legs, but it is still believed to have about 5,000 soldiers across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.